Boost your shelf esteem

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am


This is what every Hong Kong kitchen cupboard needs.

1. Goji berry

The importance of incorporating antioxidants into the diet is well known. The native Chinese goji berry, or wolfberry (Lycium barbarum), is packed full of immunity-boosting antioxidants that have shown to help maintain and improve eyesight and prevent liver and kidney disease. The small red berries can be easily consumed by the handful as a light snack, or added to Chinese soups or breakfast cereals for a healthy start to the day.

2. Olive oil

Not all oils are bad. High-quality olive oil can be the crowning jewel of a delicious meal of fresh fish; the finishing touch to a salad; or a complementary ingredient for sauces. It's the top pantry essential for executive chef Uwe Opocensky of The Krug Room at the Mandarin Oriental. 'I am not a big fan of butter, so olive oil is very important to me,' the German says. 'I have a large selection of olive oils at home and my favourite is Manni Olive Oil. I use it in pretty much everything from home-made mayonnaise to delicious salad dressings.'

3. Miso

High in protein and rich in vitamins, miso is a versatile and nourishing addition to any pantry. Available as a thick paste, it is traditionally used in Japanese cooking for sauces and spreads. It's typically mixed with dashi, a simple broth made from sea kelp and bonito flakes, for low-calorie miso soup. Traditional miso paste is made with fermented rice, soya beans, salt and a fungus called koji-kin. Its taste and aroma vary greatly, however, depending on the origin of its ingredients.

4. Mandarin peel

Mandarin peel can be used fresh or dried. A rich source of vitamin C, it is also one of the most versatile and flavourful ingredients, featuring in hearty soup and stew recipes, in sauces for duck or chicken, or as a zesty addition to batter for cookies, cakes or breads. In Hong Kong, mandarin peel is most commonly added to the soup base for ngau lam (beef brisket) noodle soup.

5. Low-sodium soy sauce

No Asian pantry worth its salt would be complete without soy sauce. But as a high salt intake increases one's risk of hypertension and its complications, consider stocking up on a low-sodium version instead.

Soy sauce is made from fermented soya beans mixed with some type of roasted grain (such as wheat, barley or rice), injected with a special yeast mould, liberally flavoured with salt and left to age for several months.

6. Stock

Every good home-made stock begins with the holy trinity of carrot, onions and celery sweating slowly in a pot - then pretty much anything goes. Once water has been added, season with some salt and pepper, and boil off those pesky leftovers - chicken, beef, veal or fish remnants will do - for a fresh and flavourful stock that's a perfect base for soups, stews, sauces and casseroles. Fresh stock will keep happily in the freezer, but dried stock or bouillon cubes work just fine and are handy for the time-pressed cook.

7. Red and white wine vinegar

A favourite of the French, these are tangy and great in a multitude of salad dressings, sauces, marinades and dips. They balance out oily ingredients and have been linked to lowering high cholesterol levels.

8. Quinoa

Originally from South America, this cereal is so nutritious that the Incas used to worship it. It can be quickly boiled to make a wholesome salad similar to tabbouleh, eaten with a bit of milk as porridge, or added to breads, cakes and soups to make them more hearty. Food blogger Paola Sinisterra ( says: 'I add two tablespoons to my standard bread recipe and it makes the crumb not only super tasty but has enough protein, calcium and iron to keep a small army going.'

9. Canned fish

A couple of tins of canned tuna or mackerel in brine can add a delicious source of protein and omega-3 fats to salads, omelettes, sandwiches or wraps. While the canning process leaves the protein nutritive values largely unchanged, it does strip tuna of its oils and hence reduces the level of heart-healthy omega-3s. But for convenience's sake, tinned fish is ideal.

10. A mixture of salts

Differing sodium and flavour levels in Maldon sea salt compared to fine table salt can completely alter the texture and taste of a dish. Vinny Lauria, executive chef of Italian restaurant Linguini Fini in Central, says having a mixture of salts is key to any conscientious cupboard. 'I like to use different salts due to the difference in the mineral content for different flavours,' he says. 'Salts are also great for preservation techniques.'